Well-formed, standardized metadata is a necessity for the discovery, access, preservation, and sharing of digital objects.

Gordo the Barosaurus, Royal Ontario Museum

“Full Barosaurus, Royal Ontario Museum” by KristyVan – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Full_Barosaurus,_Royal_Ontario_Museum.jpg#/media/File:Full_Barosaurus,_Royal_Ontario_Museum.jpg

When the Royal Ontario Museum prepared to launch a revitalised Dinosaur Gallery in the new wing of the Crystal addition in 2007, paleontologist David Evans, the new Associate Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology, wished to display a type of sauropod, a group of dinosaurs including Barosaurus. This massive creature would join the existing exhibit of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a Triceratops, and a Stegosaurus. He spent months investigating options, which included purchasing a replica skeleton or even finding one to dig up, but to his surprise, “while reading an article by famed sauropod expert Jack McIntosh something caught his eye — a reference to a Barosaurus skeleton at the ROM”. 1   There was no record of the dinosaur in ROM catalogues,  though its bones had been scattered in several drawers for safe keeping. The former curator, who had brought the Barosaurus with him to ROM over 40 years ago, had long since retired, and although he had written a paper on the subject, no member of the present team realised what they had in the collection.

How does one misplace a 90-foot, 15 tonne sauropod,  the largest dinosaur the world has ever known?​   By neglecting description and metadata of your data. In the age of Googling, the need for cataloguing may seem as extinct as dinosaurs, but well-formed, standardized metadata is a necessity for the discovery, access, preservation, and sharing of digital objects.

1 Massive Barosaurus skeleton discovered at the ROM Tuesday, November 13, 2007 (accessed 20 April 2015) http://www.rom.on.ca/en/about-us/newsroom/press-releases/massive-barosaurus-skeleton-discovered-at-the-rom

Strengthening Scholarship: how librarians and archivists are central to academic discovery

Courtesy UWOFA Communications

Academic librarians and archivists at Western are a vital part of the university’s core mission of teaching and research. Whether it’s working with graduate students to unearth archived documents, collaborating with faculty, or conducting research, librarians and archivists are central to academic discovery. Our librarian and archivist colleagues are currently negotiating with the university administration for a fair and equitable collective agreement. Below are just a few stories that highlight the important work they are doing.

Strengthening Scholarship: how librarians and archivists are central to academic discovery

Breathing new life into centuries-old classical music

It’s nearly midnight when Gianna McGrath clicks on the link and leans in for a closer look. The glow from her laptop may be artificial, but everything about the music on the screen feels real to McGrath, a third-year music education student who’s been playing the violin for as long as she can remember.

She zooms in on the page and is blown away. Rather than just another generic piece of sheet music, she’s looking at a digital copy of the 1762 edition of Thomas Arne’s opera Artaxerxes – one of the most important to survive. It’s very late in the evening, but the thing about classical musicians is they have a deep desire to connect with the original. McGrath can’t help but let herself explore the details – the beautiful notes, the discolouration, even the title page proclaiming it was to be performed at the “Theatre Royal in Covent Garden” in London, England.

“It was really gorgeous,” McGrath explained. “To actually be able to see an original manuscript of something, or to see an original copy of music, it kind of takes you back, gives you another perspective of how they wrote music then. And then when you go to play it, you understand how they wrote this because you understand the times, you understand what their life was like … which is important to channel into the musical part, the performance.”

McGrath’s experience with Arne’s 253-year-old score was made possible thanks to a digitization project led by academic librarians at Western. To date, digital photos have been taken of about 1,500 entire musical manuscripts and scores and are freely available to anyone with an Internet connection. Too fragile to be signed out and handled, the originals are protected in the Archives and Research Collections Centre – known colloquially as “the ARCC”.

For Joanne Paterson, a metadata management librarian who oversaw the initiative, the music contained on those pages sitting in the ARCC could have new life. Digitally preserving centuries-old materials not only makes these important works accessible, but also supports new modes of scholarship. Indeed, after liaising with Brian McMillan, director of the Music Library, professor Robert Toft’s graduate students will utilize the original Artaxerxes and perform a version of it next year.

“By making these images available online, students can take a look at them, they can print off a copy of the original and write on it,” Paterson said. “They can make their own annotations on the music without hurting the original … They’re so excited and thrilled to be able to have it, and it’s great to know that I helped them get there. That’s the joy of making this happen.”

Academic librarians’ work may happen in the background – it’s not often spoken of or highlighted outside of the highly specialized library world – but their dedication to advancing scholarship in new ways is an important component of the university’s mission of high-quality teaching and research.

Without it, McGrath wouldn’t be able to cut through all the editions produced over the years and engage meaningfully with the original.

Only then can she play it again like it’s the first time.

Click here to see the 1762 edition of Arne’s Artaxerxes.

Paper of the Day: a not so successful experiment!

Scholarship_WesternHidden at the bottom of the landing page of our Institutional Repository, Scholarship@Western (S@W), is a useful but largely overlooked feature, called Paper of the Day. The IR software randomly selects the URL of an item in the repository every 24 hours to highlight a research output as the Paper of the Day.

With the goal of further showcasing the intellectual output of Western University that is available in S@W, I ventured to push out the daily-generated Paper of the Day to Social Media via Twitter and Facebook . Most days I remembered to do it; some times I forgot to, lost in the hectic pace of the day. So I wondered, is there a way to automate this, so that the #PaperoftheDay appeared without fail in my Twitter feed?

Like other Social Media tools, S@W has convenient “Follow” buttons that allow S@W visitors keep up to date with new scholarship in their discipline or to keep track of new publications from favourite researchers. By simply clicking the button,


S@W visitors can use this feature to stay aware of new research. Each week, visitors receive an email highlighting the new research that they follow. Visitors also have access to Follow Management, an interface that allows them to organize what and who they follow. 

In essence this acts like an RSS feed. Taking advantage of this feature I had my smart and savvy Bepress liaison create a paper of the day RSS feed from the URL. But how to get that feed to my Social Media tools?

I played around with a number of tools that are free to use, including feedly (an RSS reader),  Tweetdeck (a powerful Twitter tool for real-time tracking, organizing, and engagement) and Hootsuite (a social media management tool) but none of these really did the trick. After a bit of trial and error, I fell upon Twibble, a tool established to easily publish content form any RSS feed. Bingo!


It was very simple to use: add the URL of the RSS feed and give that feed a title. You can schedule when Twibble checks for new content and updates the feed. It can be customized with filters, hashtags, and twitter handles. I added, played with, changed, modified, and deleted hashtags  (#openaccess #institutionalrepository #research #S@W #IR etc.). It will also pull an image to post with the URL, as that enhancement tends to improve twitter engagement.

After setting this up and watching it for a couple of weeks, I’ve decided that this experiment is, in fact, a phail. The chief problem is that the repository has a large number of metadata only entries, entries with just a description, such as, article title, journal title, author name, and date, but no “thing”, no pdf, no digital object attached. And so one tweets the link to a page of metadata without full text. And the user, should they click on it, is taken to a dead end. No paper. No access. So the S@W Open Access repository highlights a barrier!_Is_Death’s_Badness_Gendered__Symposium_on_Christine_Overall’s_book__e__by_Samantha_Brennan

and in this case only serves to frustrate a user.

When a research paper or other digital object is available, then showing this research through social media is a success because dozens of new people are now aware of it (as the image below indicates):


So while the automated approach is not working as well as I had hoped, I can employ the RSS feed as a reminder to me to pull a #PaperoftheDay and continue to showcase the research output of my academic colleagues at Western University.